Becoming a digital nomad is a dream that more and more people share, even though a true definition of the concept itself doesn’t seem to exist. One thing is clear, though: it involves a lot of traveling and ideally earning your living while on the road.
But how much should you earn to afford to become a digital nomad? How expensive is it to be a DN?
I personally became fond of this idea back in 2009 when I read some articles on the Wandering Earl blog, where he was describing his life of constant travel. As I was just starting out as a blogger – with little money, but big dreams – the idea of living someplace cheap and get a bigger bang for my buck was definitely appealing.
Since my early days when I was reading Wandering Earl’s blog, as a well as a few others – you really didn’t have many to choose from – things have changed a lot. Now everybody describes themselves as digital nomads – myself included, even though that’s not really the case.
Being a nomad is, by definition, a person without a home base. This means that you should be roaming around from country to country, from city to city, earning your living online, in order to be a “real” digital nomad.
Most people nowadays just go to Thailand or Indonesia, or some other place that’s nice and warm and cheap and they describe themselves as digital nomads, when they’re actually living a location-independent lifestyle at best.
But you know what? Terminology doesn’t matter! All that matters is to be happy with your current situation.
And in order to achieve that, you need to have some money. But how much money do you need to become a digital nomad?
How expensive it is to be a digital nomad?
After dreaming about it for much longer than I should’ve had, always fearful that I don’t have enough money to afford this lifestyle (especially since there’s a wife and son involved), I delayed dipping my toes into the clear waters of digital nomading for quite some time.
But eventually, I took my family for a test run: one month in Europe by train. We did a lot of rookie mistakes, the biggest being that of very fast travel (which really wears you down), but there was a lot that we learned from this initial experience.
Back then, we spent around 3,000 Euros during the 32 days that we spent exploring Europe. That means that we spent 93,75 Euros per day for the three of us (including transportation and accommodation) but in reality, I know now that the budget can be a lot lower.
If we had traveled slower, our costs would’ve been much lower because we would’ve gotten weekly deals (or monthly deals) for our apartments (we book our stays via AirBnb – click here to get your account if you somehow don’t have one already).
Also, transportation costs would’ve been lower since we wouldn’t have had to go on and off airplanes or trains or buses so often.
I believe that there are two very important things to have in mind when trying to decide how much to budget for your new life as a digital nomad:
1. How much money do you have available to spend
For our first month as digital nomads, we definitely spent more than we afforded, but we knew that wasn’t going to be our monthly expense: it was more of a test run to see what to expect, if we indeed like this type of travel and how much money we need.
While many people jump head first based on some estimates that they read online (which I consider really inaccurate in most cases), I think that the best approach is to do a test run first.
While you might read online that you can live on $500 a month in Thailand or other places on earth, chances are you will most likely spend a lot more.
Even if you don’t change places a lot, you will still need some time – especially if you’re just starting up – to get into a routine and avoid tourist spending.
If you spent all your life in a place and then you find yourself straight in the heart of a different culture, with all sorts of attractions nearby and things to do and see… you can easily blow through your budget in an instant.
Therefore, take a trip test instead and see how much you spend, but try to live your life there as a local and not a tourist. This is the key if you want to keep costs low as a digital nomad.
2. Where in the world you’d like to start your adventure
Some places are more expensive that others out there in the world, there’s no secret about it.
While there are a few nomads who start out in the US, in Australia or some Western European Country – all of these places being on the more expensive side – most digital nomads prefer to go someplace where they get more for their dollar.
Therefore, the cheapest places in the world are extremely attractive to digital nomads: from South East Asia to South America and even the cheapest countries in Europe, there are fortunately many great places where you can start your new life.
But this will also influence costs: take into account more than your daily budget for accommodation and food, but consider the costs required to fly there, potential visa costs, costs for health insurance and so on.
Sure, there might be people spending $500 a month in Thailand for a room, their food and some entertainment, but they’re surely not including in the price the $800+ plane ticket, the health insurance and other costs.
Another reason to ditch constant travel and go for longer stays in a city/country: you’ll keep your costs much lower. And trust me, even in the smaller cities, you can’t say that you’ve seen and done everything even after 1 month there!
So… any estimated costs, in the end?
As you probably saw already, I am trying to avoid giving you an exact amount and saying that you need it in order to be a digital nomad.
Our first month, when we knew nothing about this, cost us 3,000 Euros in Europe. But many years after, when we spent 1 month in Prague, we ended up almost 4,000 Euros short (since our accommodation alone was a whooping 2,500 Euros for the month!)
Of course, we don’t do this on a monthly basis and most definitely these are not our general costs. For the three of us, around 1,500 Euros per month is what we usually spend and sometimes we manage to go a couple hundred under budget.
As a result, I would say that a minimum of 1,000 (dollars or Euros – because I’m already mixing up the currencies here like there’s no tomorrow) would be your safest bet if you’re just starting your life as a digital nomad.
For most people, the cheaper countries out there are definitely doable on a lower budget, but they can also prove to be a lot more expensive in case of an emergency or unexpected expenses.
In all cases, slow traveling is key. You get more work done this way, you get to learn the places that are cheaper, you are not as stressed out as you would be if you had to travel every few days and you’ll get to enjoy life more. At least that’s my opinion.
It all depends on how you travel
Of course, most digital nomads are not like me. They are single people who can (and should) keep costs even lower: you don’t need a one bedroom apartment when you travel alone.
In this case, a studio or even a room in a shared apartment would be enough (and a lot cheaper).
Do you like fancy restaurants? Well, who doesn’t? But fancy restaurants are expensive. Home cooked chicken breasts with french fries might not look as good on Instagram or Facebook as eating a fancy meal at a restaurant, but it saves you a ton of money.
What would you like to get, in the end? Very expensive poop or the opportunity to LIVE anywhere you want and have great memories in the process? You should not live to eat, you should not live to impress others. You should live for yourself, you should live to make more and more amazing memories. Experiences are more valuable than caviar!
I know people in both extremes: those who go all hippie: backpacking, sleeping in tents, hitchhiking and living on a few dollars per day and I know people who are spending over 20,000 per month as digital nomads.
This means that, no matter how much you’re making, if you really want to do it, you can do it.
Being a digital nomad is as expensive as you want it to be!Nomad Not Mad, circa 2016
Before leaving for our one month nomading adventure throughout Europe, after reading forums, after checking out cost of living articles and doing all the math, I budgeted 5,000 Euros for the trip.
Those were ALL our savings and I was ready to give them all away just because I have a dream and I know that this can work out. And even though we had all that money on us, we managed to bring the costs down to 3,000.
This was our first real nomading experience: we learned a lot during this time and I am sure that if we were to do it again, we’d spend at least 500 Euros less. (never think how much more you could spend though: here, sky’s the limit!)
But we still enjoyed every second of our adventure, never feeling that we’re not getting everything we could out of this. We ate out every now and then, we enjoyed local food, we visited great places and slept in great apartments.
It was great and it proves that you don’t have to spend a fortune to become a digital nomad. Just know your limits, know your needs and always, ALWAYS try to optimize costs.
What other people are saying about the costs of being a digital nomad
Of course, since I’m not the only one interested in how much does it cost to be a digital nomad, other people wrote about this.
For example, Erin at Neverending Voyage shared her yearly nomading costs for the past four years. The results? About $2,500 per month.
Mish at Making it Anywhere has an amazing article as well, detailing everything about digital nomading and proving that not just how you travel matters, but also where: they’re spending about $3,400 per month (for two people) in Europe, while living in the still-cheaper SE Asia costs them just $1,700 per month.
Also, if you read comments and talk to people, you will find out that many are doing solo digital nomading for as low as $1,000 per month, while enjoying a good life. That’s amazing and close to what I consider the amount required for living this life.
With internet readily available everywhere and with more and more options to work remotely (either for a company or for yourself as a freelancer or business owner), it makes sense that adventurous people want to take on this type of lifestyle.
And who would say no to being able to swim in the beautiful waters in Thailand one month, then climb up the mountains in Switzerland next month, only to explore the forests and rural lifestyle in Ecuador next?
And, as long as you keep your lifestyle budget-oriented, you can definitely turn this dream into reality without having to spend a fortune.
Being a digital nomad is not necessarily expensive if you can accept that you’re not leaving your life behind to live like a King or Queen abroad.
Being a digital nomad should be all about experiencing other cultures, meeting new people, living like a local and building a life of amazing memories, not drinking champagne while in a Jacuzzi in your 5-star hotel.
Of course, if you can afford the latter, there’s no reason not to do it if you want to, but you can still do it living in a tiny room: you’re not spending too much time inside anyway because you have to explore!
So, are you a digital nomad? How much are you spending per month to keep this dream alive? What countries/continents do you prefer to visit and where did you find it cheaper to live in? Let us know in the comment section below!